I suppose it was inevitable that someone was going to turn Tarzan into a superhero like Batman, Spider-Man, or Captain America. But it finally happened with this dreadfully dull and long story about Tarzan coming out of retirement to kick butt back home in the African Congo.. AND Nick Fury is with him!
It’s sometime in the 1800’s and Lord John Clayton, III (aka Tarzan) has been living a happy life at Greystoke Manor in England for years. John (Alexander Skarsgard) and his American wife, Jane Porter (Margot Robbie) have it all, but there’s a problem. King Leopold of Belgium is being a royal dick and wants to enslave all the natives of the Congo, using the precious diamonds there as payment for more than 20,000 of his troops. U.S. President Harrison sends envoy Dr. George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to get John to go back to Africa to get proof of Leopold’s dastardly plans, since John (Tarzan) is a legend there.
But while John, Jane, and George travel to the Congo, the nefarious Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) has other plans. Not only he is Leopold’s henchman, but he is also planning on capturing Tarzan and throwing him to tribal leader, Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) who controls the diamonds. It seems that Mbonga wants Tarzan’s head on a platter for killing his son a long time ago, but that’s another story…
Anyway, Rom misses his chance capturing John, but grabs Jane for insurance, while George and John find the proof they need of Leopold’s taking over of the Congo. Through chases in the forest, entanglements with old gorilla family members, and Jane having dinner with Rom that looks strangely reminiscent of Marion dining with Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark, John is almost reunited with his wife.
The silly and preposterous ending features Tarzan going into superhero mode and exacting revenge on all the bad guys with all his “friends”, as he calls them. A plodding screenplay by Adam Cozad (the forgettable Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and Craig Brewer (failed TV pilots, Black Snake Moan) just drags along with stilted dialoge, a boring plot, and uninteresting characters. The momentary flashback scenes (Tarzan’s backstory) are a nice distraction, but as a whole, the movie just doesn’t hold up like others before it. What’s worse is the direction.
David Yates, most noted for his superb direction in four of the eight Harry Potter films, badly hiccups here with non-nonsensical close-ups and slo-mo’s, strange sweeps and pan’s, and other mediocre camera set-up’s that he is NOT known for. Are you sure Yates even directed this? And please! Do NOT get me started on those ridiculous CGI animals! The gorillas, lions, elephants, etc. were not rendered very well, reminding me of the laughable CG animals from Jumanji.
Skarsgard is good here and certainly looks the part, but he lacks the emotional depth and anger that Tarzan needs once he’s back ‘home’. Robbie is better and all ‘damsel-in-distressy’ with a bit of a fire in her. I can’t wait to see her in Suicide Squad as Harley Quinn!! Waltz is pretty much the same as he plays in every movie, while Jackson is the comic relief and at least looks like he’s having some fun with the role (and collecting a sweet paycheck as well). There is one thing I did learn though: African leaf cutter ants taste like bacon. Who knew?
Yes, there have been countless movies, cartoons, parodies, and TV shows about Tarzan the ape man, but my favorite that has the guy going from jungle to England and back again, was this sprawling epic by director Hugh Hudson and starring Frenchman Christopher Lambert as the vine swinger.
A story much like Superman’s origins, we get the usual backstory we all know and love: Lord John Clayton (Paul Geoffrey), the 6th Earl of Greystoke and his pregnant wife, Alice (Cheryl Campbell) are shipwrecked off the African coast. John builds a treehouse while Alice gives birth to a son and the animals around them are damn curious. A little TOO curious; especially the apes. Alice later dies from malaria and John is ripped apart by one of the apes. Fortunately, friendly female ape, Kala, adopts the baby human infant and raises him as a member of their pack.
We see the boy grow up, learn things, discover how to use tools like spears and clubs, and many years later, a Belgian explorer named Philippe d’Arnot (Ian Holm) finds the man after nearly being killed himself by a band of local natives. The rough and sinewy young man (Christopher Lambert) finds Philippe and nurses him back to health. D’Arnot teaches him to speak rudimentary English and deduces that he’s the son of Lord John Clayton. Calling him “Jean” (the French version of John), the young man agrees to return to England with D’arnot to be reunited with his human family.
On arrival at Greystoke, John is welcomed by his grandfather (Sir Ralph Richardson), and his ward, Jane (Andie MacDowell, but voiced by Glenn Close). The two become very close as she teaches him more English, but John is still treated as a novelty by the local social set since his behavior is still somewhat savage. After awhile, John and Jane get engaged, but John flips out after he see his ape “father” arrive in a cage at the Natural History Museum in London. He sets Kerchak (his ape ‘dad’) free, but police only hunt him down and kill him. Bummer.
John decides that Africa and the jungle is his only home and returns there without Jane at his side. Not exactly a happy ending, but at least it stuck more closely to Edgar Rice Burroughs novel than many others did. Adapted by Michael Towne and Robert Austin, this lengthy version didn’t cut corners with setting the stage and taking its time in telling the story of Tarzan, although the name “Tarzan” is never mentioned. Sumptuous in its decor and brilliant ape puppetry (NO CGI here, people!), this version was a feast for the eyes, even though much of dialogue/script fell apart after it left the jungle.
Meanwhile, the acting was top-notch here. Lambert, looking all chiseled and cut, really looked the part and acted the hell out of the role, while Holm was terrific as Tarzan’s jungle mentor and teacher. It was funny that MacDowell’s southern accent had to dubbed by Glenn Close’s British, but that can happen in film. Also a funny note: Screenwriter Towne was SO pissed after being fired from originally directing this movie, he demanded his name be stricken from the credits and the name of his DOG (P.H. Vazak) be used instead! And they did it!